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Cassini’s ring dive offers first close-up of Saturn’s cloud tops

Spacecraft images reveal stunning views of planet’s hurricane and more

By
5:49pm, April 27, 2017
Saturn's atmosphere

FIRST LOOK  NASA’s Cassini spacecraft snapped these closest-ever views of Saturn’s atmosphere on April 26. The images show filamentary and cumulus clouds, along with a good view of the planet’s giant hurricane (middle).

Cassini has beamed back stunning images from the spacecraft’s daring dive between Saturn and its rings.

The first closeup pictures of the planet’s atmosphere reveal peculiar threadlike clouds and puffy cumulus ones, plus the giant hurricane first spotted on Saturn in 2008 (SN: 11/8/08, p. 9). Released April 27, the images of Saturn’s cloud tops are a “big step forward” for understanding the planet’s atmosphere, says Cassini imaging team member Andy Ingersoll, an atmospheric scientist at Caltech.

“I was pretty struck by the prevalence of the filamentary type of clouds,” he says. “It’s as if the long threads of clouds refuse to mix with each other.” Studying the interactions of these clouds and the cumulus ones will reveal what’s going on in Saturn’s skies.

During its dive, Cassini swooped to within 3,000 kilometers of the planet

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